The Prophetical Addresses to the Seven Churches: Lecture 5

I feel, beloved brethren, that the very commencement of this chapter comforts one in a particular manner in connection with the exceeding solemnity of the address to the church of Sardis. I know of nothing more solemn than the point of view from which the Spirit of God, in this address to Sardis, regards the professing church, as to its name, its character, and its responsibility in the world; for, while the address is to the church, the point of view from whence it is looked at is what the Son of God is in His own fullness of blessing; since it ought to be, in the power of divine grace, the expression of His nature and power, from whom its life flows; and it is necessarily addressed to the professing church, according to the professed position it has taken. I feel ever a little difficulty in speaking on the subject, because of the sense of responsibility that presses on me; and I pray the Lord may communicate to you the sense I have (nay, and a much greater sense than I have) of the responsibility connected with it. The church of Sardis was, indeed, in a most solemn condition. Still there is a comfort in the fullness and perfectness of Christ here given for the need of the church; and, when all else might seem to fail, so much the more does Christ bring out that unchangeable fullness which is always there in Him to be depended on.
The Lord's character (which, as I have before said, is usual in these addresses) is adapted to the state of those whom He is addressing-" these things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." It is not said here, as it is in the address to Ephesus, " He that holdeth in his right hand the seven stars "; but " he that hath the seven stars." And, mark, that no word in Scripture is omitted or changed without full meaning. The stars (the angels1) of the seven churches are symbolical representatives of the churches, but considered in those who have a character of authority under Him, who is the head of government. In the address to Ephesus, Christ holds all the authority in His hand (the stars, as I have just remarked, being the symbolical representatives of the whole system of authority-of that active energy which characterizes the churches to Christ's eye, which acts in His name in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks), judging the state of the church, and holding the representatives in His right hand.
But here in Sardis, failure, and even spiritual death, had come in, and characterized the state of the church-" I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest and art dead." We have seen how failure and decay had already previously got into the church; but Sardis was, in one point of view, in a worse state than even any before her, having a name to live while she was dead. It was decay of vital power-not the power of evil working, but a morally worn out thing; and consequently the Lord presented Himself to Sardis as having for faith all the fullness2 of the Holy Ghost at His disposal" He that hath the seven Spirits of God "; and the seven stars, all power in the church, were at His disposal also (seven being the symbol of perfection.)
Whatever the failure of the church may be, however it may have coalesced with the world, this remains always true, that the full, divine competency of the Holy Ghost in His various attributes, is its portion, under Him who is the Head of the church and cares for it, and loves it, and watches over it; so that the church is without excuse, on one hand, and the believing saint has a resource on the other. But now that the whole thing had completely failed, that not only God's saints were seduced by the false doctrine of Balaam, and that Jezebel had found a home there, having children born there (as of Zion it shall be said, " This and that man were born in her," so here there were those who had their Christian name and birth-place in the very evil itself): another scene presents itself here after the evil has fully developed itself-a deathful state, though all spiritual energy and authoritative power is there in Christ Himself, with whom they have to do. And much as the fact of all this being still and ever in Christ may condemn the professing church, the precious truth of all power in connection with the Holy Ghost being then, as ever, assuredly in Christ is brought out for the comfort and blessing of the faithful " overcomer." It is his stay in the midst of abounding evil.
Whatever may be the form in which corruption has come in, be it Jezebel or be it Balaam, the Lord says, " I know it all." If death is stamped on the professing church, still Christ says, " I have the seven Spirits of God, and nothing can touch this "; and, therefore, while all is going wrong, we find that He has still all that is needed for the full blessing of the church-" hath the seven Spirits of God." This is not altered a bit, either by the failure of man or by the wickedness of Satan.
In Rev. 4:55And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. (Revelation 4:5), and chap. 5: 6, we have likewise mention of the seven Spirits of God-seven lamps of fire burning; seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, expressive of multiform power and manifold wisdom; so that it is as if the Lord had said, " Here is everything that can produce good, and secure good, and I have it all in My keeping." In Thyatira He had been obliged to teach them to look out for His coming as the only refuge in the midst of evil; and this hope is brought in as the bright and morning star, to light up the soul in the midst of surrounding darkness. Then, in the church of Sardis, where they had a name to live when they were dead, He further comforts the faithful ones with the assurance, that, as to the real source of all strength, there is not any failure. If all outward supply is gone, He is still the same, and now He will make this known to the church as the power to sustain and support the faithful few; but He does not work a miracle for their deliverance. So likewise, we may observe, when Israel set up the golden calf, there was no miracle wrought to meet that failure, but there was spiritual power in Moses, when he put the tabernacle outside the camp.
The prophets in Judah prophesied, but they wrought no miracles, except when the sun-dial of Ahaz returned ten degrees backward as a special sign given to Hezekiah. They testified in order to bring man back to publicly acknowledged truth in a divinely established system, and comfort the hearts of the faithful. But when the whole nation of Israel had openly departed from God under Jeroboam, and at length Baal was set up and worshipped, then God worked miracles by the hands of His servants Elijah and Elisha. So that while in mercy and grace God was always sending testimony after testimony to Judah, but no miracle when open failure came in, His power must be shown to prove that He was Jehovah, in contrast with Baal, which Judah did not deny. Power with corrupt holders of truth would corrupt them more; power as testimony to those gone away is the patient' goodness of God. This is a great principle in the ways of God, and it is of this great principle that I am speaking, rather than of there being miracles.3 The great practical principle is established, that we may always reckon upon God, whatever the failure may be. It is true that we cannot but be sensible of failure, and a deep sense we ought to have of it, while, at the same time, we must never suffer the utter sense of man's failure to dim the eye of faith to the consciousness of Christ's power; it should rather turn more definitely and distinctly to that which can never fail. Thus we can look with calmness on the church's failure, because we look at it from our dwelling in that love which can never fail; but still we must care for it, and deeply feel it, as being dishonoring to the Lord.
Take for instance, the apostle Paul; how entirely he got above the position of the failing Corinthians and Galatians when he got up to the spring of confidence in the Lord. See how shockingly the Corinthians had been going on when Paul wrote to them. There was " such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles." Therefore he had to reprove them, but he looked above their actual state to the source of their life and hope; and, therefore, before he touches upon their evil, he can speak to them of their being " confirmed unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ "; for " God is faithful by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." So also to the Galatians. When Paul wrote to them he said, " I stand in doubt of you "; for they had got under the law, and, therefore, Paul asks, must he change his voice-wants to know how he should speak to them; for they were off the Christian ground of grace, and, accordingly, he turns to speak to them according to the law. But when he gets up to Christ, then his heart gets to the spring of confidence-not confidence in them, but about them-and then he could say, " I have confidence in you through the Lord that you will be none otherwise minded." The right state of our souls is to have a just value for, and apprehension of, all that is in Christ, and consequently of all that the church ought to be for Christ, in order to have a deeper sense of its failure, according to that which we see in Christ, of whom it ought to be the faithful and fruit-bearing witness; and then the sense of the failure will augment, and not diminish, our confidence in the Lord Jesus. And this it is that will keep the saint steady and quiet through it all, because our confidence is not in what the church ought to be for Christ, but in what Christ is for it.
Mark, then, the graciousness of the Lord, in the way in which He opens this address to Sardis. Before He touches on their terrible state, He first of all presents Himself as still possessing the plenary power of the Spirit, for the resource of faith; so that, notwithstanding all the failure and evil that had come in, the power and prevalency of the Spirit still remained the same, because it depended not upon the walk of the saint down here, but upon the value of Christ's work above. Just as God spake to Israel of old when they had failed, by the mouth of Haggai the prophet, saying, " According to the word which I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you; fear ye not." And so it is here-" These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." Then He goes on to take up the state of the church-" I know thy works that thou hast a name, that thou livest and art dead." What a terrible condition is this! It completely portrays what we see all around us-I do not mean only at the present day, but what has actually been the state of the church for the last century and more.
In Sardis, it is not the church as having left her first love, as in Ephesus (although that has been the origin of all that has since followed). Nor is it as Smyrna, suffering under persecution from Satan, who has the power of the world. Nor is it as Pergamos, dwelling in that same world where his throne is, having such as hold the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitanes, a doctrine allowing evil deeds. Nor is it as Thyatira, suffering the prophetess Jezebel to teach and seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Nor has it yet arrived at the state of Laodicea, just ready to be spued out; nor is it like Israel, as the open and positive worshippers of Baal. Grace has still some work to do, and therefore we find it acting here and there. The church of Sardis, as we have seen, had got away from evil doctrine and the actual teaching of corruption; the evil of Sardis was more negative-a dead form without any living power. It has a great name to live, certainly. It is not Jezebel here, nor eating things offered to idols, neither is it yet spued out of Christ's mouth. They had got outward truth, but it was dead, having no living power; they had a certain outward and avowed profession and appearance of Christianity; but, alas! if there was the name to live, there was no power of life. They held the name and doctrine of Christianity; but alas! Christ was not there. Take orthodoxy as it now is and has been for some time past, and is it not just this? Saved from Jezebel, a dead form has come in. And here let us bear in mind what we have before remarked, that, in these addresses to the churches, nothing of that which is put under judgment has any reference to the energy of the Holy Ghost working. The thing that is judged is the use made of these graces and gifts of the Spirit of God.
Take the work of the Reformation as an illustration of this. As to the energy that produced it there was an undoubted work of God's Spirit; and we find with joy what God was doing, and not what He is judging. It is from not seeing this distinction that people get into difficulty. Now, it may be asked, where is the fruit which should have been produced by the privileges brought in at the Reformation, and now so long enjoyed? God lights a candle, not to put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all who are in the house; then God looks to see if it gives forth the light which He has put into it. In the churches, we find a good or a bad state spoken of, but never is the good state named in connection with the Holy Ghost as producing it
" I have not found thy works perfect before God." It was set up complete in all the perfectness that there was in Christ for it; and therefore He looks for that which should answer to it, the perfectness in which it was originally set. Thus the Lord presents Himself as the One having all this perfectness in spiritual power and energy, and is looking for that which answers to it. We might say, " Is it not strange to say their works were not perfect, when we are told they are dead? "
No, for the Lord never can descend below His own measure in dealing with evil, whether in the church or with an individual. If He gives a standard, it is that by which He must judge. The church must be judged according to the resources it has at its disposal. God never goes below this in looking for an answer to what He has done. Therefore we have to ask ourselves whether, as individuals, we are showing to the world the holiness that we are made partakers of, and the love we are the objects of. There are very many who profess Christ, while there are few comparatively who live Christ. There is no charge here of Balaam and his corrupt doctrine, eating things sacrificed to idols, or of Jezebel; but the Lord is looking for life. He looks for works complete, filled up according to the measure of grace with which He has connected the church. If we look at ourselves, dear friends, what can we say? The question is not whether we are producing any fruit at all, but whether the fruits that are produced are fruits meet for Him for whom the ground is dressed. If I till a field and sow it with wheat, and it does not bring forth according to my labors bestowed upon it, I must give it up, and I do not sow it with wheat any more. I am not here talking about the salvation of a soul, but of the Lord's judgment of the results in the saints, in souls already saved.
It is true that God will produce the fruits of every principle of His grace in perfection, when Christ takes His power; but before this He commits it to man. He gave the law to Israel, and they utterly failed respecting it. But Christ says, " Thy law have I hid in my heart." So also of Israel, God will, in the latter days, write the law in their hearts. Now Israel has become " a proverb and a bye-word among all nations," as having been unfaithful; but in the day of Christ's power, when God will produce fruit in perfection and fullness, then " Israel shall blossom and bud and fill the face of the whole world with fruit."
Then take government that was put into man's hand. Nebuchadnezzar was entrusted with power, and we know what became of it. But government will be set up in perfection when " the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ." So also the church of God was set up on the earth complete in Christ, to manifest the glory of her absent Head in heaven, and the power of the Holy Ghost conferred upon her. She was the habitation of God through the Spirit. But alas! how miserably has she failed, and what God is looking for are the fruits of grace as a testimony and witness to His grace received. But when Christ " shall come to be glorified in his saints and admired in all them that believe," then the church shall be manifested in glory, and the world shall learn that the church has been loved with the same love wherewith Christ was loved. But now it is a matter of responsibility, and this for each individual if the church fails. It will come to this, as to the professing church, that it will be spued out of His mouth. But, remember, this is not a question of salvation, but of profession before the world.
Take the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was given to produce certain effects. There the adequate fruits were produced. As to the present time, then the inquiry of course is, Is the church of God producing for God fruits which answer to the power of testimony entrusted to it? No, the church as a body is not. Then comes out the individuality-" He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear," and this brings the question home to each one of us, " How far are we individually producing a testimony to God's grace? "-a testimony, I mean, not in accordance with the first fullness of public power manifested in the church, but filling up the measure of what we have individually received, and the spiritual service of a saint, according to Christ's power now; for so God in practice deals with the church, and the grace in Christ is always sufficient for that. When this is the question between the soul and God, surely we shall have to own that this individual measure of grace is not attained to. We may indeed zealously contend for a name; but the question before God is as to power and full fruits of grace in the measure of that which has been received; and if the soul does not come up to that, it is a dreadful thing for it to be resting on a religious reputation, while the works are not perfect before God.
Oh! may the Lord keep us all from resting upon a religious reputation; for of all the terrible things that can befall a saint of God, one of the worst is, trusting to a religious reputation-especially for one who is engaged in ministering, I am sure. Alas! how often we have seen such a person laboring devotedly, diligently, blessed in his labors, gathering others really in truth to Christ, but thus gathering a circle round himself. Self is there, and thus he gets " a name to live," becoming satisfied with the circle he has made, and resting in the fruits produced, and not in Him who is alone the power of life. Thus his usefulness is gone, and he himself stops short of the end. Look now at the direct contrast of this, in the Lord's earthly path. He lost credit, every step He took, with those around Him, because He went on walking with His Father, shining brighter and brighter; till at last men could not bear its brightness, and, as far as they were concerned, put it out on the cross, because those around Him knew not His measure of communion, and could not at all get up to it. Even His very disciples could not come up to the discipleship involved; they also dropped off, as He said, " Ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me." Thus we see the blessed Lord in man's estimation got lower and lower till they put Him to death, " even the death of the cross."
Then there was Paul. What spiritual energy of faith there was in him! He walked with God in power; but we see that those about him could not attain to the point he had reached; and, therefore, as Paul was advancing, he must necessarily leave them behind him. His path became more and more lonely, and at the end of his course he had to say, " all they which are in Asia be turned away from me." Again, " all men forsook me, notwithstanding the Lord stood by me." Paul, out of all he had gathered, had only one person to visit him in prison. Full energy was kept up in Paul, in the power of which he walked with God, while others slipped back; as he says, they were " the enemies of the cross of Christ," " who mind earthly things." And even those who were not this were not keeping up to the point of faith; they lost sight of their heavenly citizenship; they sought their own more than the things of Jesus Christ.
Just in proportion as there is this secret measure of communion in our walk with God, in that which is hourly passing between the soul and God, will be the degree of our isolation. What we have most specially to look to is that all our works be perfect before God, that all our doings be measured with immediate reference to God; and this must necessarily produce a certain degree of isolation. It was thus with Christ: He was always lowly and He was already lonely, yet full of love to all, perfect in affability with every needy soul as with His disciples. It is no matter how we sink in the estimation of others, it will be the necessary consequence of faithfulness; and the reverse of all this is with a great show before the world-just this, " that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead," " for I have not found thy works perfect before God." The works are done in reference to man, and not to God. At the same time it is quite a right thing to walk with the saints and to keep and cultivate their affections, although the more faithful individual walk is, the greater the isolation must be, because the fewer there will be who understand it. And yet the nearer to Christ, the greater, of course, will be the grace towards others, as He says, " as I have loved you, that ye also should love one another." Thus in a close walking with God, there will be an abiding sense of His secret favor; but then this personal dependence upon God must lead to isolation. Our path will be a lonely one as Christ's ever was. With all His grace and lowliness, to listen to all, and to serve all, yea even to the washing of our feet, yet He was left alone, though not left of God, as He said, " He that sent me is with me," " the Father hath not left me alone, for I do always those things which please him."
Now see the consequences of the works not being perfect before God; and this is what I feel to be so solemn in the warning here given: " Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." Mark the two points here, " received and heard." Firstly, the grace which it has received, and in which it has been set; and, secondly, the revealed word of God as their rule and guide. Grace has been received, and the word communicated. It is not that which we have not received, but that which we have received, that we are called to consider. The Lord presents the measure of responsibility in these two points, that which the church has received, and in which it has been set, and that which it has heard (the word of God being the alone measure of revealed guidance). God gives us His word to guide us, and grace to walk according to it.
" If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Now it is a very wearying and tiring thing to watch; for one has to watch oneself too, or we are apt to fall asleep. The heart grows tired of being constantly awake to all that is going on. It is impossible to watch if we do not keep close to Christ-if we have not the sense of His watching us, and taking notice of us. We need great watchfulness in active service. Indeed, our every service ought to be connected with God as a matter of individual faith. We may be tried in it. The bush may be very thick, but the object on the other side should be clear. There is a constant tendency to slip away from that clearness of judgment about a thing, which we should have if close to Christ. When judging of a trial in the presence of Christ, the way out of it seems easy; but when we have got into the trial, we do not always see it so clearly. When we are first descending into a valley, the object on the other side, and the direction to be taken, are seen clearly enough; but when we have got into the thicket of the valley, it is not so easy to discern the pathway through the details of the way. We are apt, when we get into the weariness and distraction of the circumstances of the trial, to lose the clearness of apprehension which we had in judging of it in Christ's presence. We all find there is much practical difficulty in seeing as clearly when in the thicket of the valley, as when on the heights with Christ. Our eye must be single to do God's will; and the more humble we are, the more simple we shall be, and thus be guided through by the wisdom of His own will, who sees the end from the beginning, and guides us by His word and Spirit. The largest mind of man that was ever heard of could never discern God's ways, while the " little child " who looks to God has God's wisdom. Every step we take should be marked with the sense of God's approbation. " For the meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way."
" If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come on thee." If there is not this watchfulness in the professing church, how solemn is the result! " I will come on thee as a thief." What a fearful thing when the professing church, with its great name, is reduced, in God's estimation and judgment, to the level of the world, when it does not come up in its works to the expectation of God! He had not found their works perfect before God, because not according to the privileges given by God. God here says to them, If there be not the answer to what I have given, if there is not watchfulness, I must treat you as the world will be treated. In 1 Thess. 5:22For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2), with regard to the world it is said, " the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." But to the saints it is said, " but ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief; ye are all the children of light and the children of the day." And when He comes who brings in the day, the children of the day will come with Him. They will be, in fact, as the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. " When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory "; " when he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe." And, again, " The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me."
In 1 Thess. 5 the Spirit of God contrasts the world with the church of God; while here in Sardis the Lord contrasts the professing church with the true saints of God, and announces to it the world's portion. Therefore Sardis is addressed as the world; it is not denounced as Jezebel, but as receiving the judgment of what it is in spirit, the world; for if the professing church is not coming up to the measure of what it has " received and heard," this is its portion. If it be not found watching, it is courting in its measure the same judgment as the world. Of course we are not saying that the church of God, which is one with Christ in glory, and whose life is hid with Christ in God, could ever be so treated; but it is an exceedingly solemn thought that the great professing body, with its " great name to live " and a " fair show in the flesh," is waiting for the same judgment as the world. It is the world itself in fact. Then arises this question, How far have your souls realized that all that is going on around us bearing the name of God, while it is not of God-the nominal church, or Christendom as it is called, which is in truth the world, but having this name and position-will be treated as what it really is-the world? Well, then, dear friends, what a solemn fact is this, that we are, in this day in which we live, walking through a scene which must thus be visited, because God has said it, and alas! we know not how soon. I know of nothing more solemn than the identification of the professing church with the world in judgment which is here found.
" Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." Here we shall have another important point opened out; for here we shall find the characteristics of what is called the " invisible church." " Thou hast a few names even in Sardis." These " names " here signify " individuals " whom the Lord had counted up and known each one of them by name. " These are they which have not defiled their garments "; they had not gone on with the world, now the professing church had defiled their garments. Sardis is not charged with the seductions of Balaam, or the corruptions of Jezebel, it may be; but she is " minding earthly things " and is " glorying in her shame." Sardis has not kept her garments unspotted by the world, and, therefore, her spot is not " the spot of His children." As Paul said, " even weeping, they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, who mind earthly things." It is the spirit of the world filling the heart as an accepted object, and hence conformity to it in order to walk with it, which is here spoken of. But those who have held by the cross of Christ with undefiled garments " shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy."
The character of the blessing always answers to the difficulty. They had kept their garments unspotted by the world when down here. Therefore they shall walk with Him in white up there, " and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Mark how individual this is-" his name," so constantly recurring.
The force of the expression, " the book of life," is evidently that of a general registry of profession, taken from the custom of corporations of cities, where a name may be enrolled, the title to which may prove false, giving at the first blush a prima facie title to something, though on investigation it will have to be erased. Those who were written in this book had a profession, " a name to live." This was very different from " being written in the book of life before the foundation of the world "; because God, in that case, had written them there: it was thus the book of the counsels and purposes of God.
" I will confess his name." The Lord will distinguish each one that is His. And in these individuals we see that the invisible church exists amid the wreck of all, and when the visible body is judged, they will escape, and not merely escape, for they will be taken to the Lord before this. So that, when the Lord comes to judge the world, they will come with Him; and the visible church, not answering to the grace, will be treated as the world. There is, therefore, an invisible church, I doubt not; but mark that when the true church is invisible, then the visible church is treated like the world. These churches were called candlesticks, and God had put light in them, not to be put under a bushel, but to be put in a candlestick; to give light to all around. Well, then, is light invisible? If it is, what is invisible light worth? It only merits condemnation. What has been said by men for the last three hundred years is quite true, that there is an invisible church, but then this is the condemnation of that which is visible. Looked at with respect to its public collective testimony for God, does it bear out the precepts of Christ in its conduct and life? No; and, therefore, there has not been in the church the visible testimony Io all the grace, and truth, and blessedness, which is the church's portion in Christ.
We would here point out what very different aspects of the Lord's coming we have presented to us in these addresses. In Thyatira, in the Jezebel state of the church, He turns away the eye from all hope of its restoration as a whole, and turns it to the Morning Star for the comfort of those who, though not of the night, yet feeling that it is the night, are watching for the Morning Star; thus presenting the hope of His coming as a refuge to the faithful overcomer in the midst of abounding evil. Here in Sardis His coming has the character of judgment -" I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I will come on thee." Sardis, being in a decayed dead state, necessarily brings a judgment on itself; for if the professing church be got into a state like the dead, then it must be treated like the dead. But in Philadelphia, it is quite a different thing; there He addresses a poor, feeble remnant in the midst of apostasy, with the blessed and encouraging hope of His coming quickly-" Behold, I come quickly."
Philadelphia. We have seen the general course of the first of these churches to be declension; then the being drawn away by Satan; then warnings. Here a remnant are comforted. What characterizes the faithful here is, that while they had no strength, they are yet in close connection with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. What characterizes the father in Christ, in John's first epistle, is the knowledge of Him that is from the beginning. So here in Philadelphia, we get a little strength, it is true; but there is no denial of His name. The address to the church, the foundation of the declaration made to it, is connected with Christ, is Himself; it is not a question of power. But when all is going wrong, as in John's epistle, where there were the many Antichrists, still there were those who had that by which they could detect the false one; " for he that is born of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." Feeling it now to be a kind of hopeless thing to look for any restoration of the church, as far as regards apparent power, the keeping of the word of Christ's patience is what characterizes the church of Philadelphia; and the name of " him that is holy and him that is true " is stamped upon it in a peculiar way. In the way Christ is presented here there is no question of power. as in Sardis, but the unfailing certainty of what He was in His character, and what He has said-" He that is holy, and he that is true." With these two we can judge everything. When all was going wrong around, they were to keep to the simplicity that was in Christ; as in John's epistle-" This is the true God and eternal life." " Little children, _keep yourselves from idols." They had got eternal life in their souls, and having touched Him and handled Him, and seen Him by faith, they could say who this true One was; and could also say, " this is the Holy One," for He is not only the One who has power, but He is the Holy One.
Remark, too, that the characters of Christ presented here form no part of the original glory of Christ, spoken of in chapter 1, but refer to His moral character, discerned by the saint exercised in faith at the epoch to which the church refers. But the saints here had " kept the word of Christ's patience "; and when the word of God is valued as such, then the character of Christ Himself governs the soul. His precepts become our authority, and Christ Himself personally rules the affections of the heart, and with a single eye the body is full of light. So it was with Mary, when the departure of the Lord drew nigh. The word of God links the soul with Christ as He was, and is; it just gives one a written Christ. See in Matt. 5 " Blessed are the poor in spirit "; and who so poor in spirit as Christ? " Blessed are the pure in heart "; and who so pure as He? " Blessed are the meek "; and who so meek as He? " Blessed are the peace-makers ": He was the great peacemaker, the very Prince of peace.
The first thing, of course, is to have Him as the living Christ for the salvation of the soul; and then, through the written word, we get the spiritual perception of what this Christ is. It is the simple expression of Christ Himself, of Him who was the express image of God; who " was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." And when we thus get the Spirit's testimony to Christ, the heart clings to Him as the " holy " and the " true." Thus the Christ found in the word governs the affections, for we dare not and would not be without, or depart from, this written Christ. This living link to a living Christ is the only safeguard against them that would seduce us. A holy Christ in whom we have the truth is the blessed, strong, moral assurance of the soul, when a mixed and lifeless Christianity is powerless against delusion; and when the same causes make the professing church incapable of discerning a plain path, when there is not faith enough to do without the world, and mixture is everywhere, then a holy and true Christ is the assuring guide and stay of the soul.
To Timothy Paul said, " From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus," and surely there can be no better knowledge to be got than the knowledge of Christ. This was the point in the Epistle of John. The father in Christ " knew him that is from the beginning "; he could tell what the true Christ was; he knew " him that was holy, him that was true." It is not development that is needed, but merely the getting back to the simplicity that is in Christ-to know Him truly that was at first revealed, Him that was from the beginning. Therefore, if my soul is attached to the Christ of the written word, the Christ that I have loved here is the same Christ that I am waiting for to come and take me up there.
The blessed picture that we get here of the Lord Jesus is not like that given in chapter i, with " his eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace "-firm, unchanging, a consuming fire in judgment, and now so revealed, and according to what was revealed by the Holy Ghost. But the picture here given of Him is in connection with the moral character given of Him in the written word-" he that is holy and he that is true."
" He that hath the key of David; he that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." Christ is not looking for strength in His saints: He enters into His own personal and peculiar service and holds the " key " Himself; and this is our confidence. If raging billows rise in countries around us, and the preaching of the gospel seem to be forbidden, well, it is all in His hand. I might desire that the gospel might be preached in a certain land, and the hindrances may seem to be too many and too great; but my comfort is to know that Christ has the key, and all the divine power of God at His disposal; and it is as in John 1o, " To him the porter openeth," so that when Jesus presented Himself (as in the gospels) none could shut out His testimony. All the powers of earth-the Pharisees, the lawyers, the chief priests, the governors, the Pilates, and the Herods (those foxes)-could not hinder one poor sheep from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd in the days of His flesh; and so it is now, for Christ is " the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." This is our confidence in preaching the gospel; for, with all the liberty with which we are blessed in this highly-favored country, I could not count upon a single year more, but for this simple promise, " I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it "; and I could go fearlessly into any country, whatever might be the outward circumstances, if I saw that the Lord had set before me an open door.
Of course we must wait the Lord's time to have the door opened; as we see in the case of Paul, he was forbidden to speak in Asia, at one time, and then we find him there for three years afterward, the Lord owning his labors there, so that all Asia (of which Ephesus, where he was gathering a church, was the capital) heard the word of God. Of course we shall have to be content to lean in faith on the arm of Him who holds the key, and in our patience we shall have to possess our souls; for there will always be circumstances to exercise our faith, and God will allow these circumstances to arise, to prove to us that we cannot do without Him. For then it is we find that we have no strength, and that God answers our weakness according to His own strength; because He cannot fail to answer the faith He has given. " I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." This word has often given me great confidence-" no man can shut it." This is such a blessed comfort that if Christ has opened a door, no man, devil, or wicked spirit, can shut it; and although we have not strength even to push the door open, it is open for us. The whole church is weak, as weak as can be, and that in a bad sense, for what faith have we? We hear of a little faith. God shows us His power, as we have heard of in Madagascar. But where is the strength and energy of faith to be heard of amongst us?
" Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation." This stamps our safety and our power. It is Christ's own patience, for He is also waiting for the kingdom, expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. We wait as and with Him; but here it is by the word. It is that which is our warrant and our security- the word by which He guides us into the same mind and spirit in which He waits, separated from the world and knit to Him in the same hopes, and joys, and delight, not finding rest till He finds His-the guidance of our mind, by the communicating His, into the thoughts and expectations which He has Himself. Only let us keep fast hold of the word of Christ's patience in these last perilous times. It is our power against the adversary- in the knowledge of Christ Himself, not in ecclesiastical power, but as holy and true, waiting apart from the world, as He is, and keeping His word, and belonging to Him, so that He takes us out of the hour of temptation that hangs over the world, and the open door of service is ours meanwhile in spite of all.
For, thus associated with Him, we have His own portion. Not being in spirit dwellers upon earth, but waiting with Him, He does not make us pass through that hour of temptation which is to sift out those who have their home here, confounding by the power of the enemy and the tribulation of God the men of this world, and making the world, clung to by any of His, too great a torment to cling to any longer. All this the Philadelphian saint escapes; he can look straight up to the heaven and heavenly Christ he belongs to; and the heart associated with Him knows that He will not fail his heart, but as soon as He rises up to take His place and power towards the world, will take him to be with Him, according to the hope He has given him. Only let us keep simply to the written word of God, then we may defy all the power of our adversaries (not that we would be adversaries to them, God forbid!) Only let there be in the heart the consciousness of Christ's approbation, and that closeness of heart to God, which takes God's word for a guide because it is His, and then there will be the power of Christ, the strength of Christ made perfect in our weakness. That which characterizes the true saints at this present time is the written word of God, as bringing Christ's character and name as truth and holiness into the heart; and thus walking, in fellowship and communion with " Him that is holy and him that is true," they will be safe.
" Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." Here we get those who have an opposite character; and the Lord speaks very plainly, He does not spare them a bit. They are the synagogue of Satan. What did these Jews pretend to? All that which externally gave them a religious title to govern, to command, in the truth:—antiquity, and ordinances established of God, as they really had been in the case of the Jews, and the proof that they were the true and only people of God, the priesthood instituted of God. They had the pretension to be God's competent administrators of His blessings, which none else were; they had zeal for God, possession of His oracles. All else but themselves were without these distinctive privileges. Where else was eternal life to be found? When Christ's authority is owned in the heart, then this word comes in, " We write unto you that believe, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." If God has given us eternal life in Christ, we do not want those who pretend to be the exclusive administrators of it; and we cannot let anything come in and separate between us and Him; we cannot go away from Christ, and we have got the true Christ in the word, and we cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard. Him who would lead me elsewhere I can easily detect as of the synagogue of Satan. They may prosper now: I will wait with Christ, keeping that word which teaches me from Him and with Him to wait till He comes and sets up the blessing and the glory.
But if God has given you eternal life, then do not you dispute with these of Satan's synagogue, as if they had any title from God (they have none); but judge ye whether ye are to obey them or God. We have " Him that is holy and him that is true "-" and the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." They were not to contend with this synagogue of Satan, and though they had but little strength and were of no reputation, yet in patience they were to possess their souls, because Christ will yet manifest His love to them before their adversaries. The synagogue of Satan was a religion of the flesh, which rested in outward things-in all that nature could claim as religious-works, ordinances, and the like, assuming and occupying the place of the Jews in Paul's time; and it is spiritually the same now. But " I will make them know that I have loved thee ": the Greek marks with emphasis the " I " and " thee." Then the question resolves itself into this, Is Christ sufficient for me? Is Christ's approbation sufficient motive to govern my conduct? If Christ's approbation be not sufficient to satisfy a soul, that soul can never walk aright.
" Behold, I come quickly, hold that fast which thou hast " (that is, "the word of my patience"). I am waiting, and you must wait; Christ is expecting till His foes be made His footstool. Instead of taking our ease, we must be waiting till He come in, just as He always waited till His Father came in, and as He does now till His Father makes His foes His footstool. I would mark here how emphatically the word " My " comes in throughout this address. It is the practical identification of the saint with " him that is holy and him that is true." Waiting with Him in rejection from the hands of those who had all the ordinances, and antiquity for them, we shall be sharers with Him in glory. The word
" My " is especially connected with everything in the glory. You have been weak in testimony down here, but you have kept the word of My patience, and you shall be a " pillar " of strength in the temple of My God, I will write on you the name of My God, the name of the city of My God... which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. This identification with Christ in patience, and Him in everything, is of the deepest interest and instruction.
The Lord give us to walk in the power of the Spirit with our hearts fixed on Christ as revealed as the holy and the true, keeping the word of His patience, that so His approbation may be our everlasting reward. May He keep us separate from the world upon which He is coming in judgment!
How great the contrast between expecting that which is hanging as a terror over a person's head, and knowing Christ in such a way, having Him so completely the whole object of our desires and affections that when He says, " Surely I come quickly," the immediate response of our hearts may be, " Even so, come, Lord Jesus."